Nucleic acid aptamers as adjuncts to vaccine development.
Nucleic acid 'aptamers', a term derived from the Latin word aptus, 'to fit', are RNA or DNA oligonucleotides that conform to the three-dimensional structure of a selected protein, peptide or small molecules' functional moiety. The 'lock and key' relationship between aptamers and their binding partner permits distinction between closely related but non-identical members of a protein family, or between different functional or conformational states of the same protein. This, along with other properties, separates aptamers from antibodies--the most popular class of molecular recognition tool for the past three decades. Despite the chemical, biological and manufacturing advantages offered by nucleic acid aptamers in a wide variety of conditions, and their generation against a range of clinically relevant targets, including growth factors, transcription factors and coagulation proteins, by two dozen or more companies devoted to the technology platform, only one aptamer, developed for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration, is currently available for use in humans. Nevertheless, phase I and II clinical trials for several indications are proceeding with considerable enthusiasm. The potential application of nucleic acid aptamers in novel arenas, including molecular imaging, vaccine development, immunomodulation, decoys for natural RNA-binding events, antiviral therapeutics and both cancer prophylaxis and treatment, is emerging with a pioneering mentality destined to change the paradigm of patient care.
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